10 Rules of Japanese Business Etiquette

Japanese Business Etiquette
Business etiquette in Japan is about respect, politeness, and modesty. When meeting Japanese prospects, dress conservatively, respect age and seniority, and be punctual. Expect bowing instead of handshakes and using surnames with the honorific san.

1. Punctuality in Japanese businesses

Punctuality is part of Japanese culture and a sign of respect. A good rule of thumb is to arrive 10 minutes early for meetings and appointments.

Japan has the most advanced public transportation system in the world. Excuses for traffic and train delays are not acceptable. If you are late, apologize and explain your tardiness.

2. Professional dress code

Japanese business dress code
Japanese business dress code

Japanese professional setting calls for formal attire. This means a business suit, tie, blue or white shirt, and polished black shoes for men. Standard suit colors are black, navy, and grey.

For women, it is usually a dark-colored skirt suit, trouser suit, and dark shoes. Jewelry is acceptable but should be moderate.

Social settings require more relaxed attire. You can wear jeans, jackets, polo shirts, and casual shoes at social gatherings.

3. Business meetings & preparation

Business meetings in Japan are about relationship building, not just business. Although we’re in the digital age, printed documents still matter in Japan. Print enough copies of your documents so everyone at the meeting has one. But not all meetings require printouts, so ask first if unsure.

Be sure to prepare agendas in advance. This will ensure all attendees understand what is up for discussion.

When you arrive at the meeting, wait for directions on where to sit. Bowing is a sign of respect similar to a handshake in Western cultures. When someone bows to you, return the gesture. When bowing, avoid holding eye contact with the other person.

bowing down in Japanese buisness culture
Two businessmen bowing down while shaking hands

The Japanese introduce themselves with their family name first, followed by their given names. The surname is an essential part of the name, so be sure to address someone by their surname. Japanese people often use honorifics when addressing each other.

The word “san” is one such honorific used frequently in Japan. If your host’s surname is Takahashi, you can address him as “Takahashi-san” to show respect. Don’t use the first name unless you’re friends with the person.

During meetings, note-taking shows interest and attentiveness. Look for an interpreter to help you with the business meeting. If all attendees understand English, speak slowly and avoid slang and idioms.

If offered snacks or green tea during the meeting, accept them even if they’re not your favorite. Don’t empty your cup of green tea if you don’t want a refill.

4. Business cards (Meishi)

Business cards extend a person’s identity, so treat them with respect and care. The exchange of business cards happens during the first meeting.

Carry your business cards with you when meeting someone for the first time. Print business cards in Japanese on one side and English on the other. Have a card holder to keep the cards in good condition.

When giving cards, start with the senior person and offer your card with both hands. Offer the card with the Japanese side facing up.

how to accept business card in Japan
Lady respectfully accepting business card in Japan

Accept a business card with both hands, say thank you, and read it. If in a meeting, place the card on the table until the session ends. Then, put the card in your holder or pocket. If putting it in a pocket, don’t shove it under the waist pocket, as it’s rude. Jacket pockets are acceptable.

5. Decision-making & authority hierarchy

Decision-making is collaborative and slower. The Japanese value consensus and harmony more than we do in the United States. Hard sell and high-pressure sales tactics are not effective with the Japanese.

The authority hierarchy flows from top to bottom, with managers having more power than employees.

Seniority and age go hand in hand. Senior executives have the most power and authority in the company. Senior executives have designated seats in meetings and are introduced first.

6. What is Japanese negotiation style?

The Japanese negotiation style is formal and respectful. Japanese have a process called nemawashi, which is the idea that everyone needs to be on board with an idea before it can move forward.

This means that negotiations will proceed at a slower pace. The Japanese are also known for their ability to compromise. The consensus-based approach can lead to creative solutions that wouldn’t be possible in a competitive environment.

7. Gifting Japanese partner

Japanese society puts a lot of emphasis on gift-giving. The type of gift doesn’t matter —it’s the thought that counts.

When gifting your Japanese business partners, don’t give the same gift to people on different levels of the hierarchy. You can gift branded items, pens, and notebooks.

Don’t gift potted plants, white flowers, camellias, lilies, and lotus blossoms, which are common in funerals. Don’t gift one person in a group. It’s insulting and disrespectful to others.

8. Communication style

Japanese formal communication is indirect and polite. Indirect communication maintains harmony and avoids conflict and embarrassment. Instead of a no, the Japanese may say something like, “I will look into it.”

The official language is Japanese, but English is standard among the younger generation.

Physical contact is rare in Japan. The norm is to stand at arm’s length whenever possible.

9. Work culture

Statutory working hours in Japan are 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week. The average working day starts at 8 am and ends at 5 pm. Lunch break is one hour if you work eight hours and 45 minutes if you work six hours.

Off days are mostly Saturday and Sunday. You get ten paid vacation days per year if you work for six months. Leave days increase with the years of service.

10. Social gathering etiquette

Social gatherings in bars, restaurants, and homes help with bonding and networking. Social etiquette in Japan follows the basic rules of respect and politeness.

  • Don’t point at others.
  • Pour drinks for others.
  • Don’t eat until everyone is served and the senior person at the table begins eating.

What is considered rude in Japanese business?

  • Hard selling
  • Direct eye contact when bowing.
  • Using mobile phones during meetings
  • Ignoring anything offered to you, such as food or drink.

What is the difference between Japanese business etiquette and American business etiquette?

EtiquetteJapan 🇯🇵US 🇺🇸
Business CardsMore valuableLess influential
IntroductionsStart with the surname and then the given nameStart with the first name and then the surname
GreetingsBow downShake hands
CommunicationPolite and indirectDirect
NegotiationsSlowerFast paced

Also read: 9 US Business Etiquette Tips For Expats

What are some rules for doing business in Japan?

To Do ✅To Don’ts ❌
Wear clean, nice socks and shoes that are easy to take off. You might have to enter a room where you must remove your shoes.Don’t give anything as a set of four and nine. They are unlucky numbers.
When asked for social profiles, share Facebook profile over LinkedIn.Don’t send red Christmas cards. Red is the color of funeral notices.
Be ready for karaoke and group dinners. It doesn’t matter if you know how to sing or not.Don’t pour your own drink.
Knock three times before entering a room.Don’t interrupt someone who is talking.


Tabitha is a curious and enthusiastic writer who believes in the power of words and the importance of good manners. Etiquette is her passion, and she enjoys sharing her knowledge with others. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys traveling, reading, and spending time with her family.

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